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Stories and science

Diné schools partner with NASA for culturally based science curriculum

KIRTLAND, N.M.

Navajo Times | Cindy Yurth

Dana Desiderio explains an exercise involving positioning cards having to do with the Navajo origins stories at a “dual learning” summit in Kirtland, New Mexico, last month.

After hataalii Johnson Dennison finishes explaining the Navajo version of how the sun travels across the sky, one of the 45 or so teachers in the audience pipes up with what a lot of them must be thinking:

“Some little kindergartener’s going to say, ‘But the sun doesn’t move! The earth revolves around the sun.’”

“That,” responds Dennison, “is also true.”

Faith and science have never been easy bedfellows — just ask Galileo. But perhaps some truth can be found in the uneasy dialog between the two. That is the premise behind an ongoing partnership between Navajo schools and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which held a conference at Bond Wilson Technical School here Feb. 28 through March 1 that drew science teachers from around the reservation and beyond.

The teachers learn a way of teaching science that doesn’t discredit Navajo traditional beliefs — in fact, it starts with them and looks for a nexus between the traditional stories and empirical knowledge.

For Dennison, there’s no conflict between the two, it’s just two different ways of explaining the observable universe. “It’s a different paradigm,” he tells the teachers. “You don’t have to believe the stories. But that is our elders’ teachings that have sustained us for thousands of years.”

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About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.